Charles Band has a thing for the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and as a result his companies Empire Pictures and Full Moon have produced several films based on his stories, including the classic Re-Animator. So when I was offered a chance to see a restored print of 1994’s The Lurking Fear ahead of it’s Blu Ray release, I jumped at the chance as I hadn’t seen it since the days of VHS.
Originally conceived in the days of Empire for Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon but not filmed until many years later with C. Courtney Joyner as writer/director. And while not the masterpiece it could have been with a bigger budget and Gordon in charge it’s still a fun film.
John Martense has just been released from prison after doing five years for a crime he didn’t commit. A family friend lets him in on a secret, his father had a small fortune in stolen money stuffed into a corpse and buried near the family’s home town for safe keeping. Of course he heads off to retrieve it. However that’s easier said than done as the psycho casino owner the money was stolen from is in pursuit. And there’s the matter of the inbred semi-human cannibals living under the village. John and his pursuers arrive as the last remaining townsfolk are about to make a final stand. It’s gonna be one hell of a homecoming…
If you’re at all familiar with Lovecraft’s story you know there’s very little connection between it and the script, but that’s also pretty common when it comes to adaptations of short stories. Taking the original idea of inbred CHUDs and merging it with a crime story was a good idea, opening up the film up with other threats to our hero’s safety and the potential for action and violence. It’s also an interesting way to pad out the running time. Unfortunately the plot has some huge holes in it too, like why is there anyone left in town. These creatures have been killing folk for years, so assuming they couldn’t get the authorities to believe them and deal with the problem why didn’t everyone leave? And since it’s likely he knew about them why did John’s father have the money stashed there in the first place? But once the action starts it doesn’t really matter. The survivors hole up in the church and the creatures attack and everything ends up in the tunnels below the town where there’s some revelations waiting for our hero.
While he only directed a few films C. Courtney Joyner has a great list of credits as a writer, including Prison, From A Whisper to a Scream and Class of 1999. He knows how to write for a film on a budget and that helps him here. Sadly it also means that it takes way to long to get into the tunnels, most of the last act being a siege in the church. It also means that the creatures, while creepy looking could have been done a lot better. It’s probably also why the film is fairly light on the gore, there is a great scene of a woman being folde4d in half as she’s pulled through a hole in the wall, but other than that it’s fairly tame.
The acting is a mixed bag. Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence, (misspelled in the credits as Ashley Lauren ) is great as an ass kicking heroine out to avenge her sister, she could easily have been the inspiration for Milla Jovovich’s portrayal of Alice in the Resident Evil films. Jeffrey Combs on the other hand phones it in as Dr. Haggis, he doesn’t do much more than chain smoke his way through the film in what has to be one of his worst performances. Blake Adams, (as Blake Bailey), is ok if a bit bland as the lead, I’d have been quite happy to see the film center more around Laurence’s character actually. And veteran actor Paul Mantee, (Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Manitou, Day of the Animals among many others) shines in one of his last roles as a priest with some secrets of his own.
While I haven’t seen the previous DVD release, a quick Google tells me it was pretty bad. This looked excellent and has been remastered from the original 35mm print. I can say it’s a lot better than the VHS version I saw.
This restored version will be available on Blu Ray June 15th, if you’re a fan of Lovecraft, Full Moon Films or just want to see Ashley Laurence looking hot and kicking ass, check it out.